Engineering creativity is a must-have skill, especially when leading projects or working at the cutting edge of technology.
According to Wikipedia, creativity is found in engineering through:
The use of scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, and buildings.
But let me tell you, memorizing a bunch of theorems and equations won’t make you creative. It’s all about applying those mathematical and scientific concepts in the real world.
The best part? Engineering creativity is likely the last skill set to be automated, so you’ll be safe from the looming automation revolution.
Here’s my advice on how to boost your engineering creativity:
#1 Go with the flow of your ideas
When you’re stuck trying to brainstorm the perfect idea, just roll with your best shot. Even if it’s not ideal, it’ll get your brain gears moving, and better ideas will follow.
I often find that sketching a design helps me spot issues I hadn’t considered before. That’s why we build prototypes – they help us investigate and refine our designs.
#2 Be curious about everything
Having a curious mind opens the door to creative solutions. For example, when thinking about a Tesla vehicle, you might ask questions like:
- How do electric cars work?
- How is power safely transmitted in cables?
- What are the main advantages of electric cars over gasoline cars?
- How do cars drive autonomously?
- How can electric car batteries recharge so many times with little degradation?
By learning from existing solutions, you gather more creative data points, which ultimately make you more creative.
Remember that engineering today builds on millions of past discoveries. Tesla didn’t invent electric vehicles; they just improved on existing technology. This process of iterating on designs is a form of engineering creativity.
#3 Soak up knowledge in your field
The more you know, the better you’ll be at finding solutions. So, absorb as much relevant information as you can. Each piece of information is a tool, and the more tools you have, the better your creative solutions will be.
#4 Take the first step
You won’t become super creative overnight. It takes time and practice, and there’s always room for improvement.
So just start, and watch your creativity grow. You’ll notice that the longer you work, the more creative tasks you’ll take on.
#5 Get inspired by the greats
When diving into a biography, really get into the headspace of the person you’re reading about. Try to understand how their mind worked and what made them tick.
Put yourself in their shoes, facing their challenges head-on. Before checking out their solutions, see if you can come up with your own. Remember, hindsight is always 20/20!
Once you’ve grasped their thought process, apply it to your own problem-solving.
#6 Take a break from social media to clear your mind
To unleash your engineering creativity, you need long stretches of uninterrupted focus. Social media, with its constant barrage of distractions, is a major roadblock to creative thinking.
Protect your mind and boost your brainpower by limiting your time on social media.
#7 Embrace starting from scratch
Starting from scratch isn’t something to be ashamed of! In fact, clinging to your first idea might actually hold you back. Most of the time, that initial spark is just a launchpad.
As a newbie engineer, I was obsessed with sticking to my first ideas. I thought they were brilliant, and I didn’t want to waste time reworking everything. But guess what? When I dug deeper, I always found flaws in my designs.
Stubborn ol’ me spent weeks trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, all because I refused to admit that my designs had problems. But hey, even those early blunders helped shape my creative journey. I learned that it’s totally fine to start over, and now I don’t get too attached to any one idea.
#8 Seek fresh perspectives
Here’s the deal: the more info you’ve got, the more you can fuel your engineering creativity.
But how can you quickly gather heaps of fantastic data? The secret is perspective. It’s way too easy to get trapped in our own little thought bubbles.
This narrow-mindedness doesn’t just limit your creativity; it also stops you from coming up with top-notch designs. Fresh perspectives help you tackle problems from entirely new angles.
So, if you’re designing cars, learn from various manufacturers. Chat with their design engineers. Before you know it, your car design creativity will soar to new heights.
#9 Be a copycat
Let’s face it: copying other people’s ideas gets a bad rap. But truth be told, all engineers build on the work of those who came before them.
Now, I’m not telling you to steal patents. Instead, take existing designs and make them even better. All the greatest engineers do this—it’s a form of creativity.
No design is so groundbreaking that it doesn’t owe something to past discoveries. Take SpaceX, for example. They weren’t the first to launch and reuse rockets. NASA did it 25 years ago with their prototype reusable rocket, the DCX, which could launch and land vertically.
But SpaceX took this existing tech and transformed it into something incredible. They land their Falcon Boosters on drone-controlled ships in the middle of the ocean!
So go ahead, recycle and improve past designs to fit your project specs. No need to reinvent the wheel.
#10 Constantly challenge yourself
Don’t become complacent! Keep pushing yourself in these ways:
- Never stop learning
- Test new ideas over old ones
- Tackle work you’ve never done before
Think about it. If we humans had settled for less, we might still be living in caves, content with making fire using two sticks. Can you imagine how tough life would be today?
This never-ending quest to break the mold is perfectly embodied by Elon Musk. He’s always pushing boundaries with his companies, taking on bigger and more complex challenges.
Elon’s secret? He uses each success as a stepping stone to even greater challenges. And I bet even if he gets humans to Mars, he’ll keep pushing the envelope.
#11 Dodge your kryptonite like a pro
Keep your distance from anything and everything that distracts you. We all have that pesky focus-kryptonite. Maybe it’s your phone, or perhaps it’s chatty friends and family.
Harness every ounce of your brainpower to unleash your engineering creativity. So, create the ultimate focus zone and let your imagination run wild.
#12 Flex your confidence and crush insecurities
When you’re playing with bold ideas, confidence is your best friend. The most creative ideas usually come with a fair share of naysayers. As an engineer, you might hear:
“This is not how we do it. I’ve done this design this way, for 40 years. You’re just wasting your time!”
If you’re short on experience or don’t have a string of fancy letters after your name, the naysayers might multiply. That’s why it’s crucial to stomp out insecurities in engineering.
#13 Jot down those brilliant brainwaves
Isn’t it funny how the best ideas sneak up on you when you least expect it? When inspiration strikes, scribble down your thoughts pronto! Otherwise, that genius idea might slip away and never return.
I’ve fallen victim to this one too many times. Now, I always jot down my ideas, either on my phone’s notepad app or with good ol’ pen and paper.
#14 Say “Yes!” and embrace open-mindedness
Working with close-minded folks can be a real drag. It’s their way or the highway, leading to echo chambers that stifle creativity.
As we discovered in Tip #8, fresh perspectives are vital for creativity. Keep an open mind because today’s half-baked idea might just be tomorrow’s game-changer.
Even if an idea seems bonkers, it’s still worth considering. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t.
#15 Daydream like a champ
We all daydream, and there’s no shame in that. The things you read about most often shape your daydreams, making them a powerful tool to boost engineering creativity.
Recent studies even suggest daydreaming might be a sign of high aptitude. Overactive brainpower can’t help but let the mind wander, leading to more discoveries.
Next time you daydream, write down any awesome ideas that come to you. After all, plenty of creative breakthroughs probably started with someone lost in their dreams.
#16 Sweat it out and clear your mind
Life is stressful, no two ways about it. For me, exercise has always been the ultimate stress-buster and mind-clearer. After a tough day, I hit the gym to reset my brain.
I get under a heavy barbell and push myself to the limit. The endorphins that make me feel amazing also sharpen my focus, giving my creativity a turbo boost.
#17 Step outside of your comfort zone and take risks
To truly unleash your creative potential, you can’t just stick to what’s safe and familiar. After all, your comfort zone is where tried-and-true methods reign supreme.
Dare to push your creative boundaries by taking risks, even if it means facing failure or mockery. Sure, it’s frightening at first, but remember: the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.
As you climb the engineering ladder, you’ll be expected to take on greater risks. With less guidance available to you as a top expert, the responsibility to innovate will rest squarely on your shoulders.
#18 Lean on someone for emotional support
Battling complex engineering problems can be insanely stressful. In times like these, having any kind of support goes a long way, especially if it’s someone from your field who can offer feedback.
In turn, their encouragement and insights can inspire and reassure you, helping you stay on your creative journey.
#19 Step outside of your circle of expertise
You never know where inspiration might come from, even from industries entirely unrelated to yours or from something utterly unexpected.
Take the example of birds, which inspired humans to create airplanes. The Airbus “Bird of Prey” airliner, designed after eagles, demonstrates this. The aircraft imitates an eagle’s wings and tail, while the individually controlled feathers for active flight control were inspired by eagle feathers.
So, don’t hesitate to chat with people from different fields, learn from them, and pick their brains. You might even find inspiration in nature, perhaps even dreaming up the next groundbreaking invention. The goal is to gather as much information as possible to fuel your engineering creativity, even if it’s seemingly unrelated.
#20 Escape the confines of reality
I’m not suggesting you try magic mushrooms, but taking a break from your everyday reality can help reignite your once-sparkling childhood curiosity that may have dimmed over time.
Luckily, there are plenty of safe ways to momentarily disconnect from your daily grind:
- Video games
- The lens of a telescope or microscope
These activities offer fresh perspectives on life, which can boost your creativity. One of my personal favorites is to sit alone, gazing deep into the night sky. The cosmos holds endless fascination, providing an instant escape from the constraints of society.
Everyone’s creative potential varies, so not everyone can become a creative genius. However, by employing these 20 tips, you’ll maximize your own creativity.
Additionally, consider exploring how to be a creative engineer in 7 steps, which complement the 20 tips discussed here.
With enhanced creativity, you’ll gain the ability to better shape the world around you – a superpower few people possess.
What suggestions do you have for boosting engineering creativity? Do you believe engineers can become more creative?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.